Sticklepath, Devon, 1315. When a young girl is horribly murdered, with some of her flesh eaten, the village turns on Athelhard, dragging him from his house and executing him in front of his sister. He dies cursing the village and its inhabitants. And the curse appears to be coming true – as the years pass, more young girls die. It seems that the village is plagued by a sanguisugae – a vampire.
Summer, 1322, and when the body of ten-year-old Aline is discovered, the deaths become public knowledge and Sir Baldwin Furnshill and Simon Puttock are summoned to investigate. They soon find that more than just young girls have disappeared in the past few years… and the curse is still stalking the land. As the inhabitants of the village struggle to keep their secrets hidden, the killer strikes again. And again. And again…
Sometimes I like to think about how certain series would be dramatised for television. The Merrivale books, for example, would fit nicely into the two-hour Poirot and Marple format – I’ve always thought that either Timothy West or Colin Baker would make a superb H.M. – in fact, a lot of Golden Age mysteries would suit this style. It wouldn’t work for this series of mysteries though. You’d need a whole television series (or season for my US readers) for each book.
As I read this book, my mind drifted into comparisons with Broadchurch. In many ways, it’s very similar, as it tracks the lives of a small community as they struggle to come to terms with a tragedy (well, in this case a whole bucket-load of tragedies), while the search for a murderer continues. The difference here is that Broadchurch was chock full of red herrings, with people acting a bit odd because they were, basically, a bit odd. Here, the various stories are woven together tighter than a tapestry, leading to a grand narrative linking all of the events of the village over the previous eight years in a manner that both makes perfect sense and will completely surprise the reader – well, it got me, that’s for certain. There’s a fantastic misdirect near the end that I completely fell for, a very smart piece of plotting.
As ever, this is more than just a well-plotted mystery. It’s an atmospheric mystery, full of distinct characters, which manages to cover some extremely dark subject matter without lingering on any graphic details. It leaves an appropriate level of horror with the reader, dealing with the themes in a serious manner, but still making it utterly readable.
Regular readers will know how much I enjoy this series from Michael Jecks. Well this is possibly the best of the lot so far. Let me just suggest that even if historical mysteries are not your thing, give this a try. It’s a very impressive novel and, fairly obviously, is Highly Recommended.
Oh, and if you’d like to hear from Michael himself about the book…